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Monday, April 10, 2006, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Apple readies new hardware serial number format

With unit sales at all-time highs, Apple Computer next month will roll out a revised serial number format for its hardware products that the company says will lend better support for continued growth and scalability.

Under the new format, all "finished goods" such as Macs, iPods and accessories, will be stamped with a serial number consisting of 18 numeric digits. Presently, Apple uses an 11-character alphanumeric scheme.

The new format will reportedly extend to AppleCare Protection Plans and AppleCare Support IDs, but not to software products.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple began informing its service partners of the change in January, asking them to update their own in-house computer systems so that they can be ready to begin servicing products using the new format in May.

As part of the change, the company will also debut new subassembly serial numbers for components such as optical drives, logic boards, and wireless kits. Similarly, these items are slated to move from a 12-character alphanumeric serial format to a 17-character alphanumeric scheme.

At this time, Apple service providers that rely on bar code scanning will also need to make sure they're using the Barcode 128 standard or an equivalent, the company also warned. Barcode 128 is a barcode standard based on high-density linear symbology that can encode text, numbers, several functions and the entire 128 character ASCII character set.

In addition to supporting the new serial format, Apple also requires that service providers support the old 11 alphanumeric character serial numbers in their systems for a period of at least five years.

For the average customer, the change in serial number formats will be transparent. However, those die-hard Apple fans responsible for breaking down the company's current serial format will now need to go to work in order to make sense of the new 18 digit serials.

Currently, there are a handful of scripts on the internet that when fed with an Apple hardware serial number will return a list of details, such as the name and model of the product the serial belongs to, the date it was manufactured, and the precise location of the factory that built it.